For almost 20 years now, I've been looking for something to eat on Buckeye Road.
The scrappy old highway, a part of my regular Valley commute for most of my adult life, isn't exactly known as a dining corridor. That doesn't mean it's completely bereft of food options, though.
Buckeye Road has a long history as an important artery; if you recall your ADOT history, you'll remember that westbound I-10 traffic was funneled through Buckeye Road during the interstate's "West Valley Gap Years." If you look closely, you can still spot remnants of the road's storied past, places like Mother's Bar & Grill (57th Avenue and Buckeye).
Most food options, though, are clustered on Buckeye Road's eastern end, including spots like Welcome Chicken + Donuts, plus a small assortment of fast-food joints. On Second Street, there's La Hacienda, the venerable cash-only taco truck that stays open late on the weekends. Along the lower west-side avenues, mom-and-pop Mexican cafes like El Horseshoe (21st Avenue and Buckeye), Bertha's Restaurant (28th Avenue and Buckeye), and Los Pilares (34th Avenue and Buckeye) are quiet neighborhood gems. More recently, western portions of Buckeye Road have sprouted new taco trucks, which pop up occasionally only to fade in a few month's time.
Past 35th Avenue, though, the options thin out. The road becomes a tableau of warehouses, office parks, and alfalfa fields.
There's one notable exception, an oasis in what's otherwise a food desert.
I'm talking about the Chevron gas station on the southwestern corner of 51st Avenue and Buckeye, the one with a attached motel advertising $50 rooms.
A large banner over the entrance reads: "Famous Burritos – Open 4 a.m. – Fresh Daily." Earlier this year, a newer banner was affixed to the side of the building, this one advertising "FAMOUS BURRITOS" in all-caps.
After years of driving past the "Famous Burritos" sign, I finally stopped in recently to see what was so famous, exactly, about these burritos.
If you stop in around lunchtime, you'll note what looks like a small snack bar in the middle of the store. A line of customers gather around what looks like a deli counter. A homey scent of stewing beans hangs in the air.
Behind the counter, four women work furiously in tandem in a tiny kitchen, stirring pots of guisdados (braised meats), warming up enormous flour tortillas, and rolling burritos on a small assembly line.
The restaurant, which also sells breakfast sandwiches, tacos, tortas, and snack foods, doesn't have an official name. One of the women working behind the counter tells me this in Spanish.
The burritos, especially, she says, are extremely popular with workers from the area's office parks and warehouses.
She rattles off the different burrito options: pollo, carne asada, bistec ranchero, chile rojo, chile verde, and chicharron. "Everything comes with rice and beans, which we make from scratch every morning," she says.
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She recommends I try the chile verde, a chunky burrito bulging with tender hunks of saucy stewed pork. It's a spicy goblet of meat, rice, and beans, brimming with the unmistakable notes of garlic, onions, and the subtly tangy perfume of tomatillo.
Another chef insists I try the chicharron burrito. It's a monstrosity, sure, a thick bundle of soupy, slippery cueritos (pigskin) wrapped up in a savory, cheesy mantle of refried beans. (Purists can order it without the beans or rice). It's a hodgepodge of savory, lush flavor. One bite and I'm love-struck.
Are these the world's most thrilling burritos, or even the most famous? Nope. Starting at $5.79 a pop, these probably aren't even the most economic burritos around. But they're delicious enough to fill you with a giddy sense of awe. Not bad for something you stumbled across inside a diesel-choked gas station on Buckeye Road.
Chevron Phoenix restaurant. 5107 West Buckeye Road, Phoenix; 602-455-9373.
Daily from 4 a.m. to 1 p.m. (plus pre-prepared take-out available after 1 p.m.)